When should you be all in preflop with AK?

by PokerAnon ~ July 10th, 2011. Filed under: Fold equity, aggression and bluffing, Instructional posts, Poker theory.

How often do you want to get all in preflop with AK?

Take a look at how AK stands up against some hand ranges. The percentage is on the left, then the specific pocket cards that are make up that range. The columns on the right looks at how that range compares with AK and then the odds that the comparison generates.

In other words, when you believe that your opponent could only have AA / KK, you are a 4.6 to 1 underdog with AK, but, it’s rare that you can really narrow an opponent’s range to only those two possibilities.

Having this information is only a starting point. You also need:

  1. Reads on your opponent
  2. Situation at this moment that might help define your opponent’s hand

Take 1. and 2. and try to define your opponent’s range of hands.

If he is tight, raised from early position, you re-raised and now he has re-re-raised you might narrow his range to only QQ+ and AK but weighted more toward AA  / KK. In fact, this might have been your plan; re-raise him and see if he raises again to test him and fold if he does raise again. On the other hand if you raised from mid position and an aggressive player behind you re-raises you might put his range at 9% or wider. You’ll be out of position on the flop and you’re ahead of his hand range; looks to me like a good situation to get it all in preflop.

Simple. At least for fairly simple situations.

Let’s look at some other aspects.

  1. Stack sizes: If the effective stack size (shortest stack size of all players still involved in the hand) is 10 to 20 big blinds, which will happen in tournaments more frequently than in cash games, you may be better open shoving AK and hoping to be called by worse from a desperate player in the blinds or by a loose big stack. There’s no sense raising AK and then just calling a reraise from someone with 15 big blinds in his stack.
  2. Fold equity: Fold equity is essentially the chance that your opponent will fold when you bet or raise. If your opponent raises with 77 and you re-raise with AK he may fold. 77 is a 54.3% favorite against AK, but 77 can be tough to play postflop, especially out of position.
  3. Coin flip: AK is a 48-52 underdog against 22, but it’s also only a 44-56 underdog against QQ. This, combined with fold equity and stack size considerations makes AK a good hand to be very aggressive with preflop in tournaments. The 77 in the previous example is a 81-19 underdog against QQ whereas AK is in the same coin-flip situation against QQ/JJ/TT/99 … 22.
  4. Domination: AK dominates some other good hands such as AQ/KQ. Sometimes it can be worthwhile to just call with AK in case your opponent has a weaker ace or king and will pay you off when you both hit. This is particularly useful if you have position post flop and your opponent is not aggressive post flop unless they hit the flop. If you both miss the board it may be a good situation to float and you can take the pot away on the turn or river.

Finally, consider that Doyle Brunson claimed to prefer AK over AA because AK is easier to give up postflop. I don’t know that his statement still holds true given the development of aggression in poker over recent years. AK that misses the entire board may still be the best hand against an aggressive opponent who routinely bets all three streets, but folding AK is easier to consider folding than is AA.

DO NOT make the beginner’s mistake of thinking of AK as a “drawing hand“. This implies that it has no value unless you catch something. AK has huge value preflop, is dominated by only AA or KK (which are only 6 of 1,225 remaining possible hands after removing your A and K from the possibilities of cards that your opponent can have), makes a great semibluff since you always have overcards that could spike a later pair, and is often the best hand even if you miss the board. AK, like any hand, loses value the more players that see the flop so don’t play AK passively preflop unless there is a good reason to do so. It makes me sad when I catch a weird two pair in the big blind because the pot was limped and I stack someone who just called preflop with AK and can’t believe that when an Ace flops that they do not have the best hand.



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